Families left grieving; small businesses shuttered; communities in lockdown; precarious workers set adrift; health care workers stressed beyond endurance. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world to its core. But the cracks already ran deep.
Featuring essays on poverty, health care, incarceration, basic income, policing, Indigenous communities, and more, this anthology delivers a stinging rebuke of the pre-pandemic status quo and a stark exposé of the buried weaknesses in our social and political systems. As policy makers scramble to bail out corporations and preserve an unsustainable labour market, an even greater global catastrophe – in the form of ecological collapse, economic recession, and runaway inequality – looms large on the horizon.
What can we do? From professors to poets, the authors of Sick of the System speak in one voice: We can turn our backs on “normal.” We can demand divestment, redistribution, and mutual aid. We can seize new forms of solidarity with both hands. As the world holds its breath, revolutionary ideas have an unprecedented chance to gain ground. There should be no going back.
About the authors
James T. Brophy is a career activist, researcher, and advocate focussing on occupational and environmental health. He received his doctorate from the University of Stirling on occupational risks for breast cancer. He is a former executive director of the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OCHOW) in Windsor and then Sarnia, where he and his partner, Margaret Keith, helped to document one of the largest cohorts of asbestos diseased workers in Canadian history. In recent years, he collaborated on research exploring violence against health care workers and on the lived experience of inadequately protected health care staff working during the pandemic. He lives in Emeryville, Ontario.
nicole marie burton is a comic book and children’s book illustrator based in Ontario. With over a decade of experience in activist art and design, she is a founding member of the Ad Astra Comix publishing collective, which specializes in comics with social justice themes. Her published work includes The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet, The Boy Who Walked Backwards, and a chapter in the anthology Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working Class Struggle.
John Clarke has been involved in anti-poverty struggles since he helped to form a union of unemployed workers in London, Ontario, in 1983. He is a founding member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and worked as one of its organizers from 1990 to 2019. He is currently the Packer Visitor in Social Justice at York University in Toronto.
Anita Girvan is assistant professor of cultural studies, Athabasca University, Alberta, Canada.
Harry Glasbeek is Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. He has also taught at the universities of Melbourne and Monash in Australia, and the University of Western Ontario. He is the author of ten books including Class Privilege: How Law Shelters Shareholders and Coddles Capitalism and Wealth By Stealth: Corporate Crime, Corporate Law, and the Perversion of Democracy.
Hugh Goldring works with nicole marie burton as a writer and artist comics production team based in Ottawa, Canada. They primarily work on adapting research on social justice themes into comics. Their debut graphic novel, The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet, is available in its entirety through The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.
Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Wapsewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta, Canada. He has had creative and critical work published in the Malahat Review, Arc Poetry, Canadian Literature, Settler Colonial Studies, and the American Indian Culture and Research Journal. His first children's book, Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock, was published through Highwater Press in 2018, and was nominated for the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Literature at the University of British Columbia.
Andrew Jackson spent most of his career as Chief Economist and Director of Social and Economic Policy with the Canadian Labour Congress. Since retiring from the CLC in 2012 he has been senior policy adviser to the Broadbent Institute, and spent two years as the Packer Visiting Professor of Social Justice at York University. He is currently an adjunct research professor at Carleton University. He writes a bi-weekly on line column for the Globe and Mail and is the author of numerous articles and several books, including Work and Labour in Canada: Critical Issues which is now in its second edition.
Emma Jackson is an organizer for 350.org. and Climate Justice Edmonton.
El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor and activist living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She teaches at Mount Saint Vincent University, where she was named the 15th Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies in 2017. She was Halifax’s Poet Laureate from 2013 to 2015. She is the author of Live from the Afrikan Resistance!, a collection of poems about resisting white colonialism. Her work focuses on social justice issues, such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism and decolonization. Since 2016, she has co-hosted a radio show called Black Power Hour on CKDU-FM where listeners from prisons call in to rap and read their poetry, providing a voice to people who rarely get a wide audience.
Margaret M. Keith is an occupational and environmental health advocate and researcher, focussing particularly on women and work. She earned a PhD from the University of Stirling. Margaret served as Executive Director of the Windsor Occupational Health Information Service before joining the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers in Sarnia. She and her partner, Jim Brophy, assisted the First Nation’s community of Aamjiwnaang near Sarnia in exploring health problems related to environmental pollution from the adjacent petrochemical industry. Margaret was co-author of an internationally recognized research article documenting a skewed sex birth ratio uncovered after examining Aamjiwnaang birth records. She lives in Emeryville, Ontario.
Gary Kinsman was one of the first three employees of the AIDS Committee of Toronto, a member of AIDS ACTION NOW!, the Newfoundland AIDS Association, the Valley AIDS Concern Group in Nova Scotia, and now the AIDS Activist History Project (https://aidsactivisthistory.ca). He is currently involved in the Policing the Pandemic group. He is also the author of The Regulation of Desire, and co-author of The Canadian War on Queers. His website is https://radicalnoise.ca.
Julie S. Lalonde is an internationally recognized women’s rights advocate and public educator. Julie works with various feminist organizations dedicated to ending sexual violence, engaging bystanders and building communities of support. She is a frequent media source on issues of violence against women and her work has appeared on Al Jazeera, CBC’s The National, TVO’s The Agenda, Vice, WIRED magazine and FLARE, among others. She is a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.
Wayne Lewchuk is a professor of labour studies and economics at McMaster University.Marlea Clarke is an assistant professor in political science at the University of Victoria and a research associate of the Labour and Enterprise Policy Research Group (LEP) at the University of Cape Town.Alice de Wolff is a research coordinator who has managed projects and organizations related to equity, employment, adult education, and international development. She was a member of York University's Alliance on Contingent Employment.
Robyn Maynard is an award-winning author and Black feminist. Her published works include Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present (Fernwood, 2017), a national bestseller, as well as numerous works published in academic and trade anthologies. She has a long history of involvement supporting grassroots activism against racial profiling, incarceration, detention, and deportation in Toronto and Montreal, and is currently a Vanier Scholar at the University of Toronto.
Jane E. McArthur is a PhD candidate in sociology/social justice at the University of Windsor. Her dissertation research focuses on the understandings and strategies women workers have of risks for breast cancer in their working environments. The focus of Jane’s work outside her dissertation has been community-based environmental and occupational health research, education, communication, and advocacy. She is a mother of two school-age children and together they participate in the local climate justice movement.
Alexander McClelland is a sociolegal researcher and Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa in the Department of Criminology. He is currently examining issues of confidentiality for research with criminalized people. His work focuses on the intersections of life, law, and disease, where he has developed a range of collaborative and interdisciplinary writing, academic, activist, and artistic projects to address issues of criminalization, sexual autonomy, surveillance, drug liberation, and the construction of knowledge on HIV.
Karen Messing is an award-winning (including a Governor General of Canada award and YWCA (Montreal) Women of Distinction) and internationally recognized expert on occupational health. She is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed scientific articles and the book One-eyed Science: Occupational Health and Working Women. She is also the editor of Integrating Gender in Ergonomic Analysis, which has been translated into six languages.
Justin Piché is associate professor in the Department of Criminology and director of the Carceral Studies Research Collective at the University of Ottawa. He is also co-editor of the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, a founding member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project, and researcher for the Carceral Cultures Research Initiative. His research examines how criminalization and confinement is justified and resisted during state campaigns to expand carceral controls and in popular culture.
Elaine Power is a Professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Studies and Head of the Department of Gender Studies at Queen’s University. Her research lies at the intersection of food, poverty and public health. She created and taught the Queen’s course, HLTH 101, The Social Determinants of Health, which explores the “upstream” determinants of health, including income, racism and white privilege, education, gender, colonialism and their intersections. She is the co-founder of the Kingston Action Group for a Basic Income Guarantee and a passionate advocate for basic income.
Gina Starblanket is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary. Gina is Cree/Saulteaux and a member of the Star Blanket Cree Nation in Treaty 4 territory. She holds a PhD and MA from the University of Victoria and a BA (Honours) from the University of Regina. She has critical work in the 2nd edition of Making Space for Indigenous Feminism (Fernwood Publishing, 2017) and in an edited collection entitled Resurgence and Reconciliation: Indigenous-Settler Relations and Earth Teachings (University of Toronto Press, 2018). She is co-editor of the 5th edition of Visions of the Heart: Issues Involving Indigenous Peoples in Canada (forthcoming Oct 2019) and also has forthcoming work in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal and the Canadian Journal of Political Science. Her work is centered in Indigenous politics and Canadian politics, and takes up issues surrounding treaty implementation, gender, feminism, identity, decolonization, resurgence, and relationality.
Kingston writer Jamie Swift is the author of a dozen books, most recently The Vimy Trap, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War (with Ian McKay), finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing and the Canadian Historical Association Prize for the Best Scholarly Book in Canadian History. He has held the Michener Foundation fellowship for public service journalism and was a longtime documentary producer for CBC-Radio’s “Ideas.” In addition to the writing life, he is a social justice advocate. He taught “Critical Perspectives on Business” at the Smith School of Business, Queen’s University for many years.
Richard Swift is an internationally regarded journalist and a former editor of New Internationalist magazine. He has done stories from many parts of the world on issues as varied as famine and the plight of farmers, slums, the prison system and struggles for national liberation. Swift is author of S.O.S. Alternatives to Capitalism, now in its second edition; The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy and Trigger Issues: Mosquito, and editor of Ties That Bind: Canada and the Third World. He is on the editorial board of Canadian Dimension magazine. He has also worked as a radio journalist.
Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performance artist, and community healer in Toronto. She is the author of the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir Metonymy Press), the poetry collection a place called No Homeland (an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book in 2018), and the children's picture book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, illustrated by Kai Yun Ching and Wai-Yant Li. Her latest book is the essay collection I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl's Notes at the End of the World (an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book in 2020). Kai Cheng won the Writers' Trust of Canada's Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers in 2017.
Alberto Toscano is reader in critical theory and co-director of the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea and Cartographies of the Absolute (with Jeff Kinkle). He edits The Italian List for Seagull Books and sits on the editorial board of the journal Historical Materialism.